Student Start-ups on the Rise

Ciaran Busby examines the bubbling student start-up scene in UCD. IN TODAY’S business environment, many start-ups begin as student ventures, and there are many programmes around Ireland that help to support these budding enterprises. Here in UCD, resources such as the Innovation Academy, are offered to all undergraduates, post-graduates and PhD students as well as professionals independent of the university from across all sectors of business. The Innovation Academy; launched in 2013, is a branch of UCD, in association with Trinity College Dublin, which offers courses to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of students across campus. Its programmes aim to connect students from all disciplines to become more universal thinkers. In turn, their objective is to provide a practical and real-world context for academic effort. Although this programme was not available for the founders of DropOff, an on-demand alcohol delivery start-up launched last winter, there are innumerable other options to pursue for those who are nurturing the seeds of commerce, as Fiachra Fallon Verbruggen discussed with the University Observer. “Instead [of using the UCD Innovation Academy] we went through a number of other programs, such as Enterprise Ireland's Competitive Start Fund (where we made the national final), AIB Start-Up Academy, Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur (IBYE), where we were Dublin City finalist, as well as securing loans from AIB, private individuals and grants from Dublin City LEO.” Of course in UCD, not only does the university offer these directly as an aid for start-ups, but it also helps to get businesses off the ground in the form of the many societies recognised on campus. Belfield FM for example, the UCD radio station, gives students an outlet to express themselves on air about their specific interests, while also encouraging hosts to advertise and run their show as though they were a small business.
“The Innovation Academy… offers courses to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of students across campus.”
Another more business focused society, the Investors and Entrepreneurs (I&E) Society, actively promotes entrepreneurship and hosts events on campus, training students to establish businesses. I&E also promotes business learning, by inviting in guest speakers who have established their own enterprises. Students can learn from the experiences of successful and determined professionals. Start-up businesses, in general, have a 66% failure rate in their first five years. This is a staggering figure, which may be combated by learning as much as possible from consultants and experts in the start-up field. One area that Isaac Aderogba, a UCD Business and Law student of BreakBeyond, a ‘rule-breaking lifestyle brand,’ discussed as being a challenge to fledgling businesses was that of gaining attention in an overcrowded market. “The plethora of information at our finger tips has desensitised us to things such as advertising and media campaigns, so, as a result, the biggest challenge is inspiring engagement in an overcrowded market. In overcoming this, naturally we have to evolve to people's interests and we must remain dynamic.”
“The plethora of information at our finger tips has desensitised us to things such as advertising and media campaigns… the biggest challenge is inspiring engagement in an overcrowded market”
For start-up businesses, then, it seems as though one must reach for outside help in order to rise off the ground and to be distinguished from other competitors in the market. Aderogba explained how “since the start, we've been gunning at it alone and after a period of time, we actually realised that things had started to stagnate. We were also very lucky at this time to meet the person who would become our fourth member; Dermot Kenny”. Gaining an additional member to the team helped to bring a fresh voice to the start-up and propelled the business further. However, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, Aderogba believes wholeheartedly that the main source of his success is from that of determination, resilience, and confidence. “I think it mainly comes down to self-belief. You've really got to believe that you have a winning idea, and I've been saying that to myself more and more recently. From that point, it's a matter of hard work and consistency.” In his final tips to hopeful entrepreneurs, Aderogba recommends that the most important step in setting up a business is “just getting started. I know a lot of people say that so I'd like to differentiate myself a little. Take a meaningful first step. Although this may be difficult for most people, if you have an idea, act on it, before somebody else does. If that means seeking help from a programme or telling all your friends about your idea to get feedback, then at least it’s a start.”